CHAPEL HILL – Dabney Grinnan’s towing nightmare has ended well.
Grinnan, whose car was recently towed from Foster’s Market parking lot on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, has received a $180 refund and an apology from one of the property owners, Ron Strom.
“I feel very fortunate about how things have turned out,” Grinnan said, noting that other residents and visitors are still being tormented by aggressive towing practices in Chapel Hill.
Grinnan said Strom and store owners have also agreed to work to develop a policy that would ban late-night towing from the Foster’s lot.
“It’s a challenge — the shopping center has two businesses who are, several times a week, open until midnight — but all of the owners of those local businesses are committed to improving the towing policies in their parking lot,” Grinnan said.
Strom, the managing member of Midtown Shops LLC, the owner of the property, acknowledged the refund and efforts to modify the towing policy to avoid having cars towed after business hours.
“There really is no service to the community in towing people after hours,” Strom said. “Because of instances like this, we’re certainly trying to modify the policy.”
But Strom added that the towing policy would continue to be enforced. He said it was put in place because people, students mostly, have used the lot as a park-and-ride lot for UNC.
“Those parking spaces are essential to our tenants’ ability to provide parking to their customers and stay in business,” Strom said.
Last month, Grinnan’s car was towed by George’s Towing and Recovery, the towing company that successfully sued the town over its towing ordinance, around midnight, less than two hours after a college student left it there for pick up the next morning.
The student had used the car to take Grinnan’s son to a debate tournament and the plan was for the family to retrieve the car the next morning when they dropped her daughter off at Foster’s, where she works part time.
But when they arrived around 8:45 a.m., on Sunday, Grinnan said that the car had been towed by George’s Towing.
She said she called George’s Towing and was hung up on twice and spoken to rudely and not given clear information about who could pick up the car or when.
Grinnan said the tow company also tacked on an extra $30 to the $180 towing fee because the car had been stored for more than 24 hours.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said Grinnan’s troubles highlight the need for local government to have the authority to regulate towing.
“It just reinforces what we’ve been saying all along,” Kleinschmidt said, referring to aggressive towing in town.
Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson invalidated the town’s towing ordinance in August, leaving towing companies with the authority to charge the owners of illegally parked cars whatever fee they like in order to retrieve their automobiles.
Hudson’s ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by George’s Towing complaining that the towing ordinance and the town’s controversial cellphone ban would do irreparable harm to his business.
The town has appealed Hudson’s decision, although a ruling is not expected until spring.
And the N.C. League of Municipalities has filed an amicus curiae brief citing the case’s “significance” to its membership of more than 540 cities, towns and villages.
“This is an issue that affects all cities where parking is at a premium and towing needs to be regulated,” Kleinschmidt said.